There’s a pulse to the opening song, “Magical West,” but there’s something imperceptible – a quality that suggests this is done in widescreen, with higher ambition than most. Maybe it sums up the entire record.
“Bright lights, big city, it was all that, every bit as I knew it would be,” sings Campbell, then crucially adds, “I’m still driving to the center of the sun.” Here’s a man who isn’t satisfied; one who possesses the itinerant soul of a hobo.
However, he’s a man blessed with one of the great voices of our time. He’s genuinely brilliant on “Revelation.” Is it soul-filled? Absolutely. Sam Cooke, eat your heart out. Right down to the backing vocals, this has that elusive quality – “it.” Whatever “it” is, it’s here.
It’s my job to tell you specifically what “it” is, but the answer isn’t easy. “More City Lights,” the debut solo record from Philip Seth Campbell, is everything he wanted it to be, everything he loves perhaps. Certainly, the string-laden “All The Way Down” is a departure. As an indie rocker, it’s entirely different from “Hasta Luego,” which is as strident a chest-beater as anything Springsteen does, sprinkled with a Tex Mex flavor.
“Break The Curse” continues the anything-goes theme (in fairness, there’s a touch of Springsteen here too). It’s a touch of quasi-gospel, but if you want to look further, then I give you the funk of the title track. The chorus is a dead ringer for mid-period Black Crowes, mind you.
Let’s be honest here, if Sam Fender wrote a track even a tenth as good as “Soul Fire,” he’d sell out another stadium, and while Campbell would undoubtedly appreciate the money, I’m not sure he’d fancy the fame. There’s an honesty here, like he’s poured more of himself into the lyrics than ever before, and the diversity in the music had to match. “Soul Symphony” has energy, but “Sober Boy” is shot through with regret. There’s genuine regret here: “Find a weakness and eradicate the foe,” he sings, as if reminding himself. If that’s the case, then the last one, “Gut City Blues,” is a reminder of wild nights and hedonism.
A full-on rocker and roller, it’s got as much strip and lip curl as you’d like, all the while with a warning: “Get out of the city tonight!” goes the hook, as if explaining that it’s not responsible for what happens if you don’t.
If that’s a reminder of what used to be, then “City Lights” is a document of what is in 2023. Philip Seth Campbell has put all his talent on display here, laid it bare for all to dissect.
There, I got through the whole review without mentioning The Temperance Movement once. Damn…